In upper Peñalolén, Santiago’s single most nonconformist community occupies a conflictive area alongside middle-class suburban subdivisions and working-class squatter settlements where the militant leftist Movimiento Izquierdista Revolucionario (MIR) is loath to let the police even enter. Nevertheless, the residents of the self-consciously environmentally correct community have fashioned a neighborhood where campesinos once toiled to eke out low yields from barren soils.
In the 1960s, as Chilean peasants clamored for land, President Eduardo Frei Montalva’s cautious redistribution program had hesitated to tackle the powerful landowners of the fertile lowlands, preferring to acquire less desirable areas such as Peñalolén, where landowners were more amenable to a buyout. After most peasant farmers failed, naive but sincere back-to-the-land types supplanted them, living—camping, really—without utilities, but gradually planting trees and gardens and creating their own spontaneous architecture. Eventually, municipal authorities accepted the barrio as a permanent buffer against suburban sprawl, and it now enjoys running water, electricity, and telephone service—but not paved streets. The houses themselves, while atypical, have acquired an air of greater permanence, and many individuals from the arts and literary communities now live here.
Bus route 318, from Estación Mapocho via Calle Santa Lucía and Diagonal Paraguay, goes directly to the Barrio Ecológico—in fact, it’s the place where the buses turn around and return to Santiago Centro. An ideal walking area, it has a small handicrafts market (best on weekends) and good but simple eateries.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition